The entry to Grosvenor Mine, near Moranbah. Picture: Daryl Wright
The entry to Grosvenor Mine, near Moranbah. Picture: Daryl Wright

MINE INQUIRY: 'Methane exceedances not inevitable'

THE Daily Mercury is continuing its rolling coverage of the Coal Mining Board of Inquiry coverage today.

Be sure to check back later in the day for the latest updates from the inquiry.  

3.30PM: Dangerous methane levels are not an "inevitable" part of coal mining, an underground mine manager has told the Coal Mining Board of Inquiry.

When asked by assisting counsel Glen Rice whether methane exceedances above 2.5 per cent were an inevitable part of mining, Anglo American's Grasstree mine manager Kelvin Schiefelbein disagreed, saying it could be avoided.

"If the system is working effectively, it won't occur," Mr Schiefelbein said.  

Under the Coal Mining Safety and Health Regulation 2017, if methane concentration is equal to or greater than 2.5 per cent then the underground mine is dangerous and workers must be withdrawn from the mine. 

Methane is explosive between 5 per cent and 15 per cent. 

The public hearing is scheduled to finish at 4.15pm and will restart tomorrow at 10am.

1PM: There are no in-built systems in place to automatically alert mines inspectors to a series of high potential incidents at mines.

The Coal Mining Board of Inquiry heard that four different mines inspectors dealt with a series of eight HPIs recorded at Anglo American's Grasstree mine between February 22, 2020, and April 11, 2020.

The mine manager reported issues with goaf drainage in six of the eight HPIs. 

The inquiry heard the inspectorate's reporting system did not have the capacity to automatically flag this.

Resources Safety and Health Queensland regional inspector of mines Stephen Smith said while all HPI notifications added to the system were reviewed by inspectors, the capacity of the inspectorate's reporting system to flag a series of HPIs and distribute the information still required human intervention. 

The inquiry heard that communication between inspectors was required to relay some of this information.

"Mines inspectors are very forthright people," Mr Smith said.

"If they have a concern about a mine, they are not frightened to express it to other mines inspectors."

Barrister Saul Holt, acting for Anglo American, noted that mine staff would also be required to look into any series of incidents at their mines. 

Anglo American Grosvenor Mine. Picture: Tara Miko
Anglo American Grosvenor Mine. Picture: Tara Miko Tara Miko

WEDNESDAY, 11.25AM: The CFMEU claims there has been a breakdown in the relationship between industry safety and health representatives and the Mines Inspectorate.

The role of ISHRs is to participate in investigations with mines inspectors.

The Coal Mining Board of Inquiry heard the inspectorate had reduced the frequency of meetings with ISHRs from every three months, to every six months.

In a tendered document, CFMEU ISHR Jason Hill said the inspectorate no longer allowed ISHRs to gather evidence at the same time as them,  that ISHRs had been "pushed out of the investigation process" and had been refused access to mine sites on some occasions.

Resources Safety and Health Queensland chief executive of coal mines Peter Newman refuted that there had been any breakdown in relationship.

He said despite there being less frequent meetings between the inspectorate and ISHRs, there were other avenues for communication between both parties that had been used.

Mr Newman said there were strict procedures around the collection of evidence and ensuring that evidence was not compromised under legislation.

He said these procedures may have prevented ISHRs from gathering evidence at the same time.

"In my tenure, there have not been any instances where an ISHR has been refused entry to a mine site," Mr Newman said.

TUESDAY, 4.15pm: The Mines Inspectorate does not have a central recording system where the reporting of HPIs at mine sites and actions taken can be reviewed.

The lack of rigorous, central reporting system was revealed during questioning of witness Stephen Smith at the Coal Mining Board of Inquiry. 

Mr Smith is the Resources Safety and Health Queensland regional inspector of mines for Mackay.

He said it was not enforced that inspectors complete all necessarily fields of reporting forms.

Inspectors who need to review past HPIs at mine sites must rely on discussions with their colleagues as well as the database, the inquiry heard.

Mr Smith agreed a central recording system for HPIs was preferred.
 
The public hearing has finished for the day and will restart tomorrow at 10am.
 

1.15pm: THE industry regulator struggles to recruit mines inspectors because the work is in regional areas and there is a remuneration disparity, the Coal Mining Board of Inquiry has heard.

Resources Safety and Health Queensland chief inspector of coal mines, Peter Newman, said the regulator only had 24 coal mine inspectors currently employed, despite having funding for 28.

Mr Newman said it struggled to recruit because of disparity between the remuneration of mines inspectors compared to industry-equivalent positions.

He said the regional locations where the majority work is based - Mackay or Rockhampton - was another reason. 

"We might have (mines inspectors) for two to four years, if they are not financially secure,  they will return to the industry and the remuneration that goes with that," Mr Newman said.

The inquiry heard the lag time to recruit another inspector after one had resigned was five to six months because of a limited pool of people.

12.20PM: THE Resources Safety and Health Queensland acting chief executive says consistency is needed around definitions of high potential incidents.

In addressing the Coal Mining Board of Inquiry, Mark Stone said there was a disconnect between Anglo American's definition of a HPI, and that used by the industry regulator.

Mr Stone said he believed there was a problem with the mining company and the level at which it set triggers for a HPI, which differed to that set by the industry regulator.

"That disconnect is a concern to me… because you could potentially under-report certain incidents," Mr Stone said.

Barrister Saul Holt, acting for Anglo American, said the company used different language because it operated in a range of jurisdictions across different countries.

Mr Holt said an Anglo American HPI was still subject to a learning from incident process. 
 

10.50AM: DOCUMENTS tendered during the Coal Mining Board of Inquiry into mine safety reveal almost 1600 high potential incidents were reported at Queensland coal mines over a 44-week period. 

That works out to be an average of 36 HPIs being reported to the Mines Inspectorate every week.   

A 'high potential incident' refers to an incident which could have caused a serious adverse effect on safety and health.

More than 100 of these related to methane exceedances.

EARLIER: A BOARD of inquiry investigating the Grosvenor mine blast and other various high potential incidents will start public hearings in Brisbane today.

Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry chairman Terry Martin said witnesses would provide evidence during public questioning as part of the investigation.

"The first tranche of public hearings will not concern the serious accident at Grosvenor mine on May 6, 2020, nor methane exceedances at that mine," Mr Martin said.

"Investigations into all of these matters continue but more needs to be done before witnesses are called at public hearings."

The August hearings will focus the role of the Mines Inspectorate, the role of the industry and site safety and health representatives and how the management structure and employment arrangements of the mining companies may impact on mine safety.

An aerial image of Anglo American's Grosvenor Mine. Picture: Daryl Wright
An aerial image of Anglo American's Grosvenor Mine. Picture: Daryl Wright

More stories:

Anglo's new measures to prevent Grosvenor mine repeat

Tragic 60 seconds: Mine blast findings released

Grosvenor miners injured in blast take steps to recovery

They will also explore the methane exceedances at Grasstree, Moranbah North and Oaky North mines.

Mines Minister Anthony Lynham announced the Coal Mining Board of Inquiry in the wake of the Grosvenor mine disaster, which left five workers with horrific burns injuries.

Members of the public are encouraged to observe the hearings on livestream or attend the hearings in person.

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A livestream broadcast will be available on the inquiry's website and is accessible from any internet enabled device.

Mines Minister Anthony Lynham. Picture: Daryl Wright
Mines Minister Anthony Lynham. Picture: Daryl Wright

The hearings will be held in court 17 of the Brisbane Magistrates Court.

Witness list:

Week one

August 4

Mark Stone - Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Resources Safety and Health Queensland

Peter Newman - Chief Inspector of Coal Mines - Resources Safety and Health Queensland

Stephen Smyth - Regional Inspector of Mines - Resources Safety and Health Queensland

 

August 5

Kelvin Schiefelbein - Underground Mine Manager - Grasstree Mine

Braedon Smith - Ventilation Officer - Grasstree Mine

Tim McNally - Operations Manager - Grasstree Mine

 

August 6

Peter Noton - Explosion Risk Zone Controller - Grasstree Mine

Shaun Stingle - Explosion Risk Zone Controller - Grasstree Mine

Josh Smith - Explosion Risk Zone Controller - Grasstree Mine

Graeme Read - Explosion Risk Zone Controller - Grasstree Mine

Luke Shackleton - Explosion Risk Zone Controller - Grasstree Mine

 

August 7

Scott Fraser - Explosion Risk Zone Controller - Moranbah North Mine

Kelvin Sloan - Longwall Co-ordinator - Moranbah North Mine

Michael Lerch - Underground Mine Manager - Moranbah North Mine

Jason Hill - Industry Safety and Health Representative - Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union

Stephen Woods - Industry Safety and Health Representative - Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union

 

Week two

August 10

Gus Wilson - Explosion Risk Zone Controller - Oaky North Mine

Luca Pantano - Ventilation Officer - Oaky North Mine

Michael Downs - Underground Mine Manager - Oaky North Mine

Joe Barber - Site Safety and Health Representative - Oaky North Mine

 

August 11

Jim Hoare - Site Safety and Health Representative - Grasstree Mine

Richard Harris - Site Safety and Health Representative - Grasstree Mine

To be determined - Corporate Representative - Oaky Creek Holdings Pty Ltd

 

August 12

Paul Brown - Inspector of Mines - Resources Safety and Health Queensland

Mark Lydon - Inspector of Mines - Resources Safety and Health Queensland

 

Week three

August 17

Tyler Mitchelson - Head of Metallurgical Coal Anglo American plc

Chief Executive Officer Anglo American Metallurgical Coal Pty Ltd

Warwick Jones - Head of Human Resources

Anglo American plc - BC Met Coal

 

August 18

To be determined - Corporate Representative

Anglo Coal (Capcoal Management) Pty Ltd

To be determined - Corporate Representative

Anglo Coal (Moranbah North Management) Pty Ltd

To be determined

Damien Wynn - Site Senior Executive - Grasstree Mine


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